How do product leaders launch new products?
That’s a big question, but fortunately we have a product leader with over 20 years of experience to help us answer it. Sara Rossio, Chief Product Officer at G2, has built and managed software for companies including Here, Gogo, and PowerReviews during her career. In this episode of Product Chats, Sara shares what she's learned about launching new products. Be sure to check it out.
Time Stamped Show Notes
Becoming a chief product officer [01:13]
How to be a good mentor to aspiring product managers [02:47]
How data can help you say no to ideas [05:24]
Staying focused on problem solving [07:22]
The different character archetypes of product [08:06] - [09:50]
Hiring the right archetype for your product needs [09:50]
Launching a new line of business [13:31]
Flawless execution is just table stakes [14:51]
Using discovery to get data to start building new product lines [16:23]
Longitudinal Interviews [17:02]
The Value of Observing Users Using Your Product [17:42]
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Kayla: Thanks for tuning in to Product Chats. On today's episode, I talk with Sara Rossio, who is the Chief Product Officer at G2, and we talk about mentoring, archetypes and how to launch a new product. So hope you enjoy the show and don't forget to leave us a review.
Kayla: Hey Sarah, thanks so much for coming on.
Sara: Thanks for having me.
Kayla: Yeah. So in a minute or less, can you tell us about yourself?
Sara: Yep. I'm Sara Rossio. I'm the Chief Product Officer at G2, and I love product management and been in product management for over 20 years now.
Kayla: Wow. So since you've been in product for over 20 years, tell us about that journey.
Sara: Yeah. So accidentally started in product. Didn't know it was actually a thing. Early 2000s and at the time I learned all the basics of product management, including what became agile because I learned lean enterprise first and then moved into software after that because in tech. Mostly because I wanted to move really fast and solve bigger, more complex problems, it was just trying to focus on having the best user experience possible in solving core problems.
Kayla: So I kinda wanna touch on that. Right? You started out in product when it wasn't even really a thing. And now you've worked your way as like a female chief product officer. Tell us a little bit about that journey and what that looks like.
Sara: It was interesting. I always just found my voice and passion for what I felt like was solving problems. And I was lucky enough to have been the only person, woman, in the room for many, many years and having a huge amount of advocates. And I was always around people who cared about taking care of me.
Sara: I think I'm very lucky that my journey felt right and felt easy for me.
Kayla: And I think you bring up a great point, right? The piece around making sure that you're working at a company where people support you and want you to be better. Right? Like I think that's something when I talk to a lot of product leaders, you're always trying to hire people that are smarter than you, and you don't always have to be the smartest person in the room.
Kayla: And I think you've been very lucky obviously, but obviously you've worked also hard to get to where you are and have those people who have supported you and, I think that's something that's so important to leadership.
Sara: Yeah. I totally agree. And for me, that's why I'm constantly, I'm coaching, I'm mentoring, I'm talking to people.
Sara: I find in all those points of connection, I'm actually learning about myself too and I'm staying curious and how you think about solving problems has really changed too. And so I'm so lucky to like constantly be an advocate for the next up and coming product leaders.
Kayla: So when you talk about mentorship, I know that's something that a lot of people are thinking about. Like what are things that you've learned? And then I think the second piece are like, what are important things as a mentor, because I'm sure there's people who are listening to this who want to mentor people? What are some important things that you make sure to practice in that?
Sara: Yeah. I think as a mentor, I like to understand what someone's looking for, really what they're trying to build up and making sure that I am constantly present for those conversations prepared for those conversations, because I wanna be in the right mindset to be able to ask questions, stay curious, or provide advice, connections to other people.
Sara: A lot of times I realize I don't have all the answers, but I've been fortunate enough to keep a very large network of people who I stay in contact with. And I often then say, introduce you to this person, because I think they probably have experience, but I think mentorship is a two-way street. And just constantly just making sure that you're really looking out for the person and their goals that they have. Early in my career people wanted me to be them. They wanted me to follow their path and it took me a while to say, "their path isn't mine and my path's okay." And so I'm very conscious to remind myself that just because this is what I did, this doesn't mean that this is the right thing for that individual, because we're all unique and amazing and beautiful.
Kayla: Yes. And I think you also bring up a great point of like always being curious and there's that parallel in product and in mentorship where you're always curious about what is, I guess it's, what is your customer in the way of mentorship, right? Whoever your mentee is, what do they want? What's their end goal and helping them get there? There was, I forget which episode this was but I talked to someone about, it's not always about building up a product. Maybe your working with some other product or you have some integration and you don't always have to build something out, but making sure that they have the best resources possible to meet their goal.
Sara: And also knowing, and this is also something that applies to product, but knowing when to walk away, knowing when to say the connection isn't actually working, or, you know, the product's not good enough yet for the market or I'm not gonna invest anymore. I mean, the number one, most powerful thing I found in product is actually killing a product.
Kayla: Yep. I think you bring up a great point with that of like being able to read the room, right. It's not always about saying yes. And I think that brings up another point about like sometimes leadership, or in smaller companies, right, the CEO, their product is their baby. Right. And sometimes you have to say, no, we actually can't do this.
Kayla: And I think that's something that's so important in leadership is the ability, and especially in product to say no. Because you are being able to see that bigger picture and then maybe it's not aligning with whatever that is that you're trying to get to.
Sara: Yeah. A lot of times people want me to say. Yes, and it'll be this timeframe. No's a really hard thing to say, especially without data. I think that's the key is collect data, whether it's quant or qual and help tell the story on why you're saying no, just because you're, you know, you're not being obstinate. There's actually some logic to what you're doing and that makes it so much easier.
Kayla: And I think with that, right? Like you bring up such a great point of people wanna know a why. They're usually happier, even if you don't give them exactly what they want, as long as they can have an answer that they understand and have some piece of mind, right.
Kayla: Even if you're saying, no, we're not gonna build out this feature or no, we're not gonna build out this product. Here's the reason why here's the data to back it up. It's really hard to go up against data and say, oh, well, that data's wrong.
Sara: Yeah. And a lot of times I like saying not right now, and this is why, right?
Sara: And if these other things happen, let's revisit it at this time. And I find, if you allow people to say, I'm gonna maintain my curiosity, I'm gonna keep collecting data. It's not telling me it's the right time yet. You'll find that your stakeholders will probably lean in with you and help you collect that data.
Sara: Because if they're really passionate about it they're gonna be part of the solution with you. And I find that's always such a great way to make sure you're doing the right thing for the market.
Kayla: I think even off of that, right? Maybe they have a certain way of thinking about things than you in product. Maybe you have a bigger picture idea of, Hey, we actually have a different way to solve this or a different way to come to this. It's just that this solution that you're thinking of right now doesn't actually align to the bigger picture of where we're trying to get to. We actually have this other idea and I think that's something that's so important in product is kind of thinking out of the box of, there's not just one way, there could be 5 or 20 ways to solve this different problem. And maybe what someone has in their mind isn't necessarily the best way to solve it.
Sara: The more product leaders you talk to, they're always like, wait, wait, what's the problem?
Sara: Like how to get it done. Let's figure out exactly what you're trying to solve and going back to like the basics. A lot of times people get so invested in the complexity and like, find this love for solving something complicated, but forget like what they're trying to achieve. And so just going back to kind of that simple structure works a lot for me, especially when you're working with anyone. Honestly, I was gonna say, when you're working with like engineering or like someone in solution consulting or in the sales organization, like it's okay. I, I trust. I trust we're gonna get there. Let's just stay focused on what problem we're solving first.
Kayla: And so I actually wanna backtrack because we were talking about mentorship and I wanna kind of talk about your different archetypes. So let's kind of dive into that. And then we'll kind of hop over to like building products.
Sara: In my career, I used to always think there was like the execution person, the person who like, knew exactly how to deliver on a product deliverable. And then the strategist, like the person who was, could really find kind of where in the market things sat. Sometimes people had both, but it was very rare to find both. And then over time I've realized. I've met other types of product people. And one is like, you have a really depth of experience in a very core discipline, a core industry. A lot of times you need those people. When you're developing, especially very technical products, a creator, someone who's like completely disruptive, completely innovative, like just naturally as the entrepreneur, you find these in lots of small companies as CEOs.
Sara: You know, we'll go out and find like, what is something that's completely different. And then the last one is someone I've met this type of archetype that I've met later in my career, which is what I call the connector. This is the person that understands the ecosystem. They understand the channels. And we talked about integrations earlier and one of your comments and like, thinking about it, it's so interesting that like, they're the individuals who connect the dots, thread things together and make sure that a lot of times you don't build your way in. You buy or your partnering your way in.
Sara: And the more I get to know that type of archetype, the more excited I am, because a lot of times something could exist in the world already. And just being able to identify that and put it together, you can get to market a lot faster.
Kayla: So I wanna talk about these different archetypes and actually how you hire for these different archetypes and kind of seek out or evaluate what type of archetype they are and making that part of a complete team.
Sara: It's usually based on the product and the maturity of the product that I'm going after, or the complexity. When I interview, I know generally what I want based on that product line, right. I'm gonna build something new that's wildly different, and some literally need to like motivate people and you know, create a small team that's going to like basically create a seedling and blossom this into an amazing tree.
Sara: Or someone who I think there's white space and a strategist needs to come in and actually lay out the entire go to market and the entire product strategy around this space. I can generally tell what I need based on the business needs with this said, I actually have started using this new interview process.
Sara: I didn't develop it. It's by GH Smart, and it's called, the book is called Who, and you ask five questions and you have someone talk about their story and tell their life and chapters in stories. And when you start hearing them talk about what they've loved, what they're not good at. And they tell these stories, you can start to pick out, oh, this person actually probably started as an execution or maybe tried to do strategy and like keeps telling these stories of execution.
Sara: This is someone who's really good at execution, and I can't put them in this other type of role. And so I really encourage people to invest the time as you're interviewing, to use something like this. It literally takes an hour and a half to have someone tell their story. It's so worth it because you can start to pick up on what skills and expertise they really have.
Kayla: And I think there's you bring up such a great point with that of like, we always try to hire for the whole, and I hear that time and time again with product when you're actually looking at these different type of archetypes and how they make up a team, it's not based around like necessarily skill set, but it's based around like what they actually bring to the team and what you need at that level of maturity.
Kayla: And so being able to understand, okay, for this product, we need this type of person and how do they fit into this? And it may not be the same makeup over and over again. It's just being able to figure out, okay, what do we actually need for this product?
Sara: A lot of product people say, yes, I need this for this product today. But what I find interesting is as you build a portfolio and you're really mentoring and coaching your team, and you understand where they want to head. I was just talking to someone in my team, one of my leaders yesterday, and I said, maybe it's time to shuffle the chairs. And change the deck chairs a little bit in different areas.
Sara: Now I don't encourage people to do that, you know, very frequently, especially on product line, product managers, but it actually changes a lot of times the roadmap and creates this moment of breathing that people step back and then they actually solve different problems, which with different skills, which is really healthy.
Sara: I try to do it maybe every couple years based on the maturity of the product.
Kayla: And I think with that, right? Like it's, that's also, I see the parallel on product of, you're not just always building out the same thing, right? Your product matures, and it's at different points of maturity. You have to change. Maybe your audience is changing, right. Maybe you're trying to reach a new market and this is gonna get us into the next subject, but maybe you're trying to reach a new market, and so things change. I agree with you. It's not like you shouldn't change it every week. Right, you shouldn't be like let's shuffle teams, but as you're seeing these people mature, right and change, and maybe the product has a different need than it did two years ago.
Sara: I think it's scary, but it's actually healthy for the product line.
Kayla: Yep. So let's actually pivot into launching a new line of business. So let's talk a little bit about that.
Sara: At G2, we've been lucky. And we just got a major round of investment based on some really exciting ideas of new lines of business.
Sara: We, at its core are a marketplace who allows people to review software. But now we're saying, well, what if, what if we allow people to actually review services associated with that software? And so creating a whole new line of business, this one's a little bit easier because we have all these lessons learned from our core business.
Sara: But everything has like different kind of the edges are around it in a different way. Everything changes a little bit. The questions you ask, how you present the information, how you make decisions and you need, for me, I need one of these different archetypes to really build this forward. And, for me, I'm bringing in actually a strategist because the strategist will help be able to understand at its core what we did in this business, but very quickly be able to pivot in the areas that we need to grow.
Sara: I actually have three new lines of business we're building and another one I'm bringing SME in because it's a data product. And creating data visualizations in a really compelling way, requires a depth of really understanding and being a SME. So, you know, I'm just constantly bringing in these new leaders to build these lines of business.
Sara: And the one thing I will say is being a flawless executor in product is just table stakes, like just table stakes. I won't hire anyone unless you know how to execute, to tell you the truth, because it, you can't build the strategy without executing to the strategy. Plus you have to be held accountable to actually developing and delivering to that strategy and learning as you go.
Sara: And I feel like the disconnect of like those execution and strategist is not a good thing. So those are kind of the types of archetypes that I'm bringing in. I will say one thing that could be confusing. Sometimes people are great executors and that's it. And they're like, that's their strength.
Sara: And by the way, that is amazing and beautiful. And when you find people like that, put them on the hardest, most complex project, but in building new lines of business, that's not traditionally what I'm looking for. I'm looking for a couple different archetypes.
Kayla: So with building out these different lines of business, and I know G2 has been established for a while and you guys have many, many customers. What are some learnings that you've used to kind of apply to these new lines of business, maybe as some frameworks or something when you're building them out?
Sara: We always, so we're data first. Like we're always looking at doing primary research, understanding how buyers behave on our site. And then we'll like, we'll set up a small test and actually start testing how buyers are using, like for example, the services pages and compare those.
Sara: And so we're constantly like using a baseline and then doing AB testing to do small iterations, to compare and learn.
Sara: And on the new, big lines of business where we don't have those kind of efficiencies of learning through data and behavioral analysis. We end up doing a lot of discovery and conversations.
Sara: What I've learned in product. Everything in product is simple. Like the lessons are all simple I feel like, but if you ask the question and you stay long enough to listen and keep asking, someone's gonna give you the answer. And so I interview a lot of people on new lines of business, and that's what we're doing, especially in the places that things aren't being built yet is I go and I ask, and like I said, you'll find the answer there and you'll start seeing and be able to build something.
Kayla: And with these users, right, that you're interviewing, are you spending just like an hour? Are you interviewing them multiple times to get to that deeper question? What is that like structure look around user interviews?
Sara: I love longitudinal interviews. So keep going back asking questions as you iterate.
Sara: Because usually I want a small enough amount to validate some, to ask questions in a small area and then go back and confirm is this right? What are you thinking? Can I watch you use it? I find that's the best way. A lot of times it's an hour on the bigger interviews when you kind of have a level set as a first time, and then the next ones can be much, much shorter.
Kayla: And something you brought up is can I actually see you use it? And I think that's something that's so important is understanding how you use it. Right? You can ask all these questions, but if you're not understanding their workflow and what they're dealing with, then you're not fully understanding like the challenges and the need.
Sara: I love feeling like I'm looking over their shoulder and watching them do something and then say, What'd you just do? Why'd you do that? And, and allows like, allowing them to explain. I was like, oh, okay. Because a lot of times when users don't have any other choice, they find their own hacks and so what I find is they don't even know they found it. They just did it. And so all of a sudden, those are your moments of delight when you find these, these things that they're doing. And they're like, oh, I never actually thought of that. Yeah. I love that.
Kayla: And I think that's also by observing them, it's less open-ended of how do you feel about this? It's more about what is the actual user journey, right? You could say, how do you feel about this feature or how do you feel about this other feature, but you're never gonna understand why they feel that way. And I think another piece is you've seen a need for something, and you have to also understand, like, if someone will actually pay money for this and is it valuable cuz at the end of the day if people aren't bringing in money there's I mean, at the base level, right? You can't justify that use case if it's not bringing in more business.
Sara: People will state, like whatever they think sometimes that you wanna hear and I built a lot of products based on what they've stated and not on what I've observed.
Sara: And so I've learned there's something really beautiful on actually watching what people do at its core. And, and then you can understand value, do the conjoins and everything else.
Kayla: Yeah. So on that note, I know you've had a ton of experience in product, so I wanna know what's one piece of advice you would give to an aspiring product leader?
Sara: I think it's pretty simple. Just never stop listening into your customers. Never stop looking for trends that may impact what your product is. And this might be two pieces of information, but once you do that, once you listen, take the risk. Like take the risk to build what you think the data's telling you, and I think that's kind of the power.
Kayla: And on that note, probably growing your team, what roles are you hiring for?
Sara: I'm always hiring for product and UX or design. And I also lead engineering, so I have a whole bunch of engineering roles too, so look G2.com on our careers page. We're always hiring and looking for great people.
Kayla: Great. And where can people find you?
Sara: Find me on LinkedIn. I'm Sara Rossio I live in Chicago and G2.
Kayla: Awesome. Well, thanks for coming on today.
Sara: Thank you.
Kayla: Thanks again to Sara for joining us on today's episode of Product Chats. For more product management resources, head to Canny.io/blog and we'll see you next time.
Sara Rossio is the Chief Product Officer at G2. Sara has spent over 20 years building and managing software solutions in various product leadership roles. Prior to joining G2, Sara held leadership positions at NAVTEQ/Here, Gogo, and PowerReviews. Sara holds five patents, and consistently focuses on solving user problems with technology. She earned her BSBA in Marketing & International Business from the Ohio State University.